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Hutterites,Covid,Racism and Social Responsibility

Its been heartbreaking to read the vile comments directed at Hutterites on social media following the COVID-19 outbreaks on some colonies in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. Personal and media stories about Hutterites being profiled and not allowed into certain stores or being denied services in those regions of the provinces are disturbing.

Racism and bigotry are the purview of the ignorant. I wrote my memoir, I Am Hutterite, to challenge that ignorance and have spent the years since defending Hutterites without white-washing the fact that they are not Utopia. Hutterites, like the rest of the world have good and bad apples in their midst and suffer from all the troubles common to humankind.

While I forcefully stand against the discrimination of my people, I refuse to defend a small minority of Hutterites who have contributed to this unfortunate situation. I'm referring to a handful of colony leaders and their communities who have adopted a Trump-like attitude towards the Covid-19 crisis and who have recklessly endangered others by dismissing the seriousness of the situation. Disregarding health protocols and endangering others is absolutely unacceptable. Unfortunately, the errors of a few have led to open season on Hutterites in general with bitter exchanges, racial slurs and “no Hutterites allowed” signs.

It has deeply hurt the majority of Hutterites who have been vigilantly following the protocols laid out by public health officers. The Hutterian Safety Council Covid-19 Taskforce led by David Tschetter initially included members from all 4 Hutterite groups. From the start they partnered with provincial governments and health authorities making joint statements to inform Hutterites of exactly what needs to be done. Most leaders including Dariusleut Bishop Joe Wurz (SK & AB) along with Manitoba leaders like Bishop Arnold Hofer Schmiedleut (1) took the epidemic seriously from day one and have been diligent about enforcing government protocols on colonies under their jurisdictions.( Saskatchewan and Alberta are home to 2 groups of Hutterites with colonies spread throughout both provinces. Dariusleut and Lehrerleut Hutterites are governed by 2 different Bishops).

Tschetter and his team have provided excellent guidance for all 50,000 Hutterites in Canada and the U.S. Fragmenting communal life for safety reasons has not been easy. And neither has dealing with the media in an honest and transparent ways. As a rule, Hutterites don’t do media relations, but neither do federal and provincial governments of different political stripes work together. Covid-19 is a national crisis which has brought us all together. We are blessed here in Canada that political and cultural differences have largely been put aside and the general consensus is that we are all in this together.

Despite due diligence and exercising great caution some Manitoba colonies are now also experiencing incidences of a Covid-19. They are being targeted with unacceptable racial profiling despite exceptional precautions. They do not deserve this treatment.

Why is it that mainstream citizens who behave badly are dealt with on a one to one basis, but Hutterites are not? Hutterites are largely law-abiding citizens. Obeying government is part of our spiritual mandate. Like other cultures, Hutterites look different and see the world differently. Forgive us for adding texture and color to your universe but we also contribute 3.5 billion dollars to the annual economy of Western Canada.

Hutterites have 2 terrible flaws. Firstly, they never brag about the incredible kindnesses they do for so many others. Secondly and most egregious; they feel no obligation whatsoever to explain their way of life to the general public. This leaves them open to speculation and misunderstandings. Hutterites have been in Canada for over 100 years but you will not find one book in any book store that makes our astonishing history come alive. This would shock our Hutterite forefathers, most of whom were cruelly burnt at the stake and desperately wanted to be remembered,not for their sacrifice, but for the why.

Covid-19 is changing all of our lives. I am extremely proud of the work my Hutterite colleagues have done and continue to do in relation to Covid.

Racial profiling of any group including Hutterites is counterproductive. It changes the conversation and can offer those who deserve a penalty a free pass. Hutterites need to be dealt with on an individual basis rather than being targeted as an entire culture for the irresponsible actions of a few. Those who needlessly endanger others should be held accountable.


Mary-Ann Kirkby is a Canadian writer and author of the award-winning, national best-selling memoir, I Am Hutterite. Her portrait of life on a Hutterite colony in Western Canada and the difficult transition to mainstream society is a Canadian Prairie Classic

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